Camper trailers have been around for a long time now. To start off with, they were basically tents on trailers, and over the years many have evolved into luxury accommodation on wheels.
You can buy soft floor, hard floor, forward fold, rear fold or side fold, and sometimes a combination of. One things for sure though, soft floor camper trailers have been around for a long time, and are used by many, many people in Australia and around the world.
Here's what we use - our Aussie soft floor camper trailer for travelling Australia.
What’s a soft floor camper trailer?
In essence, a soft floor camper trailer has a tent that folds out onto the floor. It doesn’t have a solid bottom; the tents bottom sits on the ground.
Your most common soft floor camper trailers fold out over the side of the trailer, are pegged down and have a number of poles to put in to hold them up.
Most of them have a bed on top of the trailer, and the option of adding extra rooms, annexes and lots of other accessories. The kitchen will usually come out the back of the trailer, either by sliding out, or folding out on the tailgate in one direction or the other.
Benefits of soft floor camper trailers
There’s a reason so many soft floor camper trailers exist today. They might not be the perfect trailer in every way, but they are much better than the alternatives in a number of aspects:
If price is the determining factor when buying a camper trailer, a soft floor will make you happy. Australian made ones start off at around $14k brand new, and imported ones around the $5k mark.
They work their way up to about 35 – 40k for a soft floor with a lot of options and gear.
If you are in the market for something second hand (and you should be - you can score some epic bargains), you can pick up a great condition Aussie made camper for under $10k, and the imported ones lose their value super fast making them even more attractive.
There’s no denying that soft floor camper trailers are much lighter than any other style. Most start off around 400 – 600kg empty, and sit at around 1000 – 1500kg when loaded. To see what they weigh empty, look at the nameplate on the camper (usually on the drawbar) and find the tare weight. ATM, or aggregate tare mass is the maximum it can weigh when loaded.
Most hard floor campers start off around 800kg and work their way up to about 1600kg, unloaded. I've seen a couple of hard floor campers nudging 2.3 - 2.6 tonnes when loaded, and that is huge amount of weight to pull around.
If you are wanting to really get off the beaten track, you can't go past a light weight trailer like a soft floor camper trailer.
Soft floors tend to be fairly small when packed away, and have the ability to be very large when set up. Our soft floor has a 12ft tent on it, and its absolutely massive internally. That’s without fitting any extra rooms or panels.
Hard floor camper trailers have much smaller tents, and also tend to be longer units when packed up.
Soft floors are super simple. They’ve been around for a long time. It’s a heavy duty trailer, with a tent bolted on top and a kitchen off the back (normally). There’s no fixed gas systems (normally), no struts or winches to fold and unfold things, and they are made to function with as little as possible to go wrong.
Storage room and access
You will not beat the room you get with a soft floor camper trailer, inside the tent when set up, but also inside the trailer for taking gear with you. A soft floor was an obvious choice for us as we have a lot of gear, and accessing it can be done from a number of different ways.
We can access it from the tailgate, under the bed if the tent is set up, or if its not, you can lift the whole tent up. Essentially you have an empty box trailer, asides from the kitchen to store your gear.
I’ll dedicate a special section of the article to payload, because so many people have no idea what it is, and even more are overloaded. Your trailer comes with an empty and full weight, as detailed above. If you exceed the full weight, then your insurance can void any claims, and beyond that you are putting your trailer at risk of early failure.
The payload that your trailer has is the difference between its full weight and empty weight. However, be aware that often the empty weight listed on the nameplate is not correct; improper regulation allows lots of camper trailer and caravan manufacturers to do this. If you are well loaded up, visit a weighbridge when you are full, and see what it comes in at. If you suspect the nameplate is not true, then weigh it empty.
Bear in mind that the empty weight includes only the things bolted to the trailer, so the weight of anything added that is not bolted – your water, jerry cans, gas inside the bottles, even batteries sometimes comes away from your available payload, and a lot of people are left with very little, very quickly!
What’s not good about a soft floor camper trailer?
There’s no free lunch. You can’t have a super cheap camper trailer with lots of storage that has no drawbacks. There are downsides of having a soft floor camper trailer, and I’ll cover these below:
A long setup time is almost always associated with a soft floor. Any other type of camper trailer is going to be quick. To set ours up from being hooked onto the car to unhooked, kitchen open, gas connected and burner operational, stabiliser legs down, chairs out, tent unfolded and bed ready takes about 30 – 40 minutes.
Some hard floor campers can be ready in 5. If you are moving regularly, setting a soft floor camper up every day does get tedious. We have come from an Oztent (30 second tent) and portable table/burner etc which we could probably set up in 30 minutes, so the difference is negligibly. It takes a long time to get mattresses out, unroll them, unpack sleeping bags and move gear into a tent. Food for thought.
The big difference between the Oztent setup for us and the camper trailer is the setup difficulty. Our Oztent was easy to set up, and asides from being hard to lift onto the roof racks, was super straight forward.
The soft floor camper on the other hand, has insanely heavy canvas, and because of the big tent requires a fair bit of muscle and effort to set up. I have the hang of it now, and can do it myself, but there were some very frustrated times early on trying to set the tent up, and having poles fall down while sweltering under the canvas!
The smaller the tent, the easier the setup on a soft floor; ours essentially has another room attached permanently, and this is what makes it hard, as it folds out twice, instead of once like your standard size soft floor would.
Packing away when wet
Soft floors fold onto themselves, on top of the bed. If your canvas is wet when you fold it away, not long after so is your bed. I suppose you could put a tarp over the top if you had to, but there’s no avoiding wet canvas being a major problem.
I mentioned above that although you have a lot of storage space, sometimes making use of it is a real pain in the backside. I’ll give you two examples – milk crates full of food, and our portable toilet. We keep both of them inside the trailer, on the far side to help balance the weight of the batteries. Trying to reach these, pull them across and lift them up is a fair bit of effort. They are heavy suckers, and I shudder at the thought of having to pull them out!
Dust, dust and more dust
Asides from the tailgate on our camper trailer, which doesn’t seal real well around the sink region, our camper stays pretty dust free when all packed up. However, soft floors have covers over the top of the tent, which is intended to keep the tent clean. Ours does a fantastic job of doing this, as it is zipped and velcroed down, but some do not keep things very clean.
However, you can’t avoid the dust getting on the top cover, and I promise no matter how careful you are, you will end up dirty unzipping and moving the cover out of the way!
At the end of the day, no matter what you buy its going to be a compromise in one way or another. Soft floor camper trailers are popular for many couples and families, and will continue to be for a number of years. If you are holidaying a couple of times a year and want something you can hang onto, a soft floor is fantastic. If you need the room for kids, a soft floor is fantastic. If you are travelling a lot, and moving regularly, and you have limited help to set a soft floor up you may get sick and tired of it.
However, weigh it all up – a hard floor or soft floor isn’t perfect either, and you may be better with the cheaper, more simple option of a soft floor camper trailer.
I hope this post has been helpful, and offered some insight to help make your purchasing decision easier. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch! Safe travels